Does it matter whether or not you bait-and-switch a nation into a good cause?
For the purposes of my hypothetical, let’s set aside for the moment whether or not it was a good thing to invade Iraq to topple a bad-acting regime and build a democratic state in its place. In fact, let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that it was not only a good thing but a worthwhile expenditure of national resources.
In the lead-up to the war, I argued repeatedly that it was a mistake to gin up phony or exaggerated reasons for our invasion of Iraq, even if the effort itself was justifiable on other grounds. It was wrong not only because it’s bad practice to bamboozle the public but because such deception has very practical consequences.
Now we’re seeing some of them.
David Warren is a columnist for the Ottawa Citizen and, among other things, a main proponent and perhaps originator of the ‘flypaper‘ hypothesis.
In an article today he asks whether Americans will have the stomach and sticktoitiveness to stick it out in Iraq. And he comes to the conclusion that they probably won’t. This is really a wretched argument, more wretched because it mirrors the communications strategy coming from the White House and many war-hawk circles in Washington.
To the extent that there is war-weariness — and that’s a complicated, fluid reality — it’s not so much because of casualties as the administration’s own pervasive dishonesty in building the case for the war.
(Actually, dishonesty before the fact, mixed with incompetence after the fact, which is a really bad combination.)
Before the war, I had many conversations with war-hawks who said something like this. “If this is a good war, it really doesn’t matter if you hype up the arguments to get the country into it. It’s a good thing. And a little rallying the country is okay, if the goal is a good one and a necessary one.”
The thinking was that once you’ve got the country into Iraq you can rely on American gumption to stick it out till the job is done, even if you weren’t completely honest about what that job really was going in.
But there’s a problem with that kind of thinking. Once it becomes clear what sort of enterprise you’ve gotten the country into, it may turn out they really don’t have the stomach for it. And then what do you do?
Or, actually, that’s an unfair way to put it. Let’s try this instead … Once it becomes clear what the stakes really were and what the costs really are, you may find out that the country doesn’t think it’s a good bargain and doesn’t support it.
The reasoning of many war-hawks on this point was extremely cynical. In essence, it went like this: Once we’re in, we’ll have the wolf by the ears and it really won’t matter what people think. We’ll have created a fait accompli. They’ll have no choice.
Of course, there’s another possibility. The public might start wanting to pull the troops out when the effort has barely even begun.
Today those same war-hawks are arguing that it’s a moral failing for the public not to want to follow through on the enterprise that they bamboozled the public into.
Now, let’s draw back and make a few points …
The war still has a lot of public support. And the situation is far from irretrievable. War-hawks want to portray the situation as something akin to the late stages of Vietnam, with a defeatist press and establishment, a war-weary public, and a few brave souls who’ve read their Churchill and remember the lessons of Munich wanting to stick it out.
But that’s not where we are. What you’ve got is a lot of people who are unhappy about the administration’s dishonesty, an equal number who don’t think the current plan is working, and a pretty broad consensus that we need to make some course corrections if we’re going to be successful.
So let’s make those course corrections and give ourselves a shot at an outcome which is good for us and the Iraqis.
One thing we shouldn’t do is give those liars a chance to question people’s moral fiber for not signing on to their latest fairy-tale, the never-ending-story about why we did all this in the first place. Let’s write those folks out of the conversation entirely.